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November 26 2013

$5 Billion in School Improvement Grants Buys Small Change, Not Real Change

Vicki E. Alger

Last week the U.S. Department of Education released the results of its School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. This programs directed nearly $5 billion to 1,500 of the country’s worst performing schools—because after all, more money and more time are all these schools need to improve, right? As ED explains:

Under the Obama Administration, more than 1,500 schools have implemented comprehensive turnaround interventions aimed at drastically improving achievement. …"The progress, while incremental, indicates that local leaders and educators are leading the way to raising standards and achievement and driving innovation over the next few years," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "To build on this success in our disadvantaged communities, we must expand the most effective practices to accelerate progress for students and prepare them for success in college and careers."

Leading the way, and success? Let’s take a closer look. According to the Fordham Institute’s Andy Smarick:

Mountains of studies had clearly demonstrated over many years that the success rate of school-turnaround efforts was miniscule. The research showed that regardless of the intervention used or the amount of money spent, persistently low-performing schools stubbornly remained that way. …

And so it was that $5 billion dollars of taxpayer money was invested in a venture with a decades-long unmitigated history of failure. …

Nearly a year ago to the day, the Department released dreadful first-year SIG data, results far worse than even an inveterate turnaround skeptic would’ve predicted. Fully one-third of schools receiving SIG funding and interventions had either made no progress or actually gotten worse. Just as bad, though the package of material made available by the Department was conspicuously thin, it still couldn’t hide that most of the schools that had made progress had only barely improved. …

But after two years of results, the most sanguine assessment the Department’s team could muster was “incremental” progress. Needless to say, we did not spend $5 billion for incremental change. ...

Despite another year of lots of money and lots of effort, the first SIG cohort made virtually no progress: We’re two years in, and still one-third of these schools have gone backward or remained in neutral.

Even worse, across all cohort-one schools, the average reading-proficiency increase was a mere five points—a cost of one billion dollars for each point of improvement in reading proficiency.

Washington politicians want American families to sacrifice their children to schools that refuse to reform—and pay more and more of their hard earned tax dollars for failed, feel-good programs.

Instead of funding inept bureaucracies, parents should be allowed to keep more of their tax dollars to send their children to school that actually work—or donate as much of their tax dollars as they please to scholarship-granting organizations so that disadvantaged children can escape bad schools now—not years from now.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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